(Is.8:23-9.3; 1Cor.1:1-13,17; Mt.4:12-23)
The first pot-plant I ever owned was a coleus blumei (aka ‘Painted Nettle’). I had it long ago, but sadly it didn’t survive.
Like each of us, it needed healthy doses of sunlight, but I didn’t recognise this at the time, and it slowly perished. I’ve always regretted that.
What does sunlight do for us? It banishes the darkness; it nourishes growth, it heals and it reduces our stress and anxiety. Sunlight also offers us comfort, warmth and safety. And it shows us the way.
But there’s another kind of light we also need. It’s the interior light of faith and hope that shines in our hearts and minds. This is the spiritual light that opens us up to truth, beauty and goodness, and it fills us with joy.
Not surprisingly, light is a theme that runs all through Scripture. At the beginning, at the dawn of Creation in Genesis, God commands ‘Let there be light!’ (Gen.1:3). And at the end, in the Book of Revelation, we’re told that in heaven we won’t need the sun or the moon, because God’s glory will give us all the light we need (Rev.21:23).
About 700 years before Christ, the prophet Isaiah foretold that one day, the Virgin would bear a son who would be called Emmanuel (Is.7:14). And as Matthew reminds us in today’s Gospel, Isaiah also prophesied that those living in darkness would see a great light.
Well, as history shows us, that’s exactly what happened. At midnight, when the world was at its darkest, Jesus was born (Lk.2:8), and ever since then he has continued to bless us as the Light of the World (Lk.2:30-32).
But in what way is Jesus the Light of the World? How does he light up our lives?
Well, Jesus is very much like sunlight, because he banishes the darkness (Jn.8:12), and he shows us the way (Jn.14:5-6).
Like sunlight, Jesus is also warm in the way he reaches out to everyone. He nourishes us and heals the sick and the suffering (Mt.8:3; Mk.10:46-52).
And like the sun, Jesus is pure because his entire life is focussed on only one thing: love. Love for his Father and love for all humankind (Mt.5:8).
Jesus is the Light of the World, and the world needs this light today. So many people are struggling.
The novelist Edith Wharton once wrote that there are two ways to spread light: either to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.
Jesus is that candle, and here in our church he is symbolised by the paschal candle. But the Light of Christ is not meant to stop there; it needs to spread. That’s what happens at baptism, when the flame is passed from Jesus’ paschal candle down to our own baptismal candles, which we then take into our own lives.
In other words, at our baptism, Jesus’ Spirit of love is passed down into our hearts, and our challenge is to keep that flame burning brightly all through our lives.
Next week, on 26 January, we celebrate Australia Day. This is always a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect on those saintly women and men who have done so much to mirror the light of Christ in our nation.
Think, for example, of the remarkable Mum Shirl Smith who raised 60 children. And St Mary McKillop, who spent her life supporting and educating poor children and their families. And Eileen O’Connor, possibly Australia’s next saint, the severely disabled woman who established a nursing order for the poor. And Caroline Chisholm, who helped countless immigrant families.
But what about us today? How do we let our light shine? Do we give others the hope and encouragement they need? Do we smile and listen to them, and genuinely help them? Each of us can do something to make a difference.
Let’s close with a story. A boy went with his parents to Europe for a holiday. They visited many magnificent Cathedrals, and the boy was fascinated by the way the sun shines through the beautiful stained-glass windows.
‘Who are those people in the windows?’ he asked his father. ‘Oh, those are the saints,’ the father replied.
Back at home, when the boy returned to school, his teacher asked the class, ‘Who are the saints?’
The boy eagerly replied, ‘I know! Saints are the ones the light shines through!’
How do you reflect the Light of Christ?